Japan space robots start asteroid survey

September 22, 2018
The rovers will jump around on the surface—soaring as high as 15 metres and staying there for as long as 15 minutes

A pair of robot rovers have landed on an asteroid and begun a survey, Japan's space agency said Saturday, as it conducts a mission aiming to shed light on the origins of the solar system.

The mission marks the world's first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid , according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The round, cookie tin-shaped robots successfully reached the Ryugu asteroid a day after they were released from the Hayabusa2 probe, the agency said.

"Each of the rovers is operating normally and has started surveying Ryugu's surface," JAXA said in a statement.

Taking advantage of the asteroid's low gravity, the rovers will jump around on the surface—soaring as high as 15 metres (49 feet) and staying there for as long as 15 minutes—to survey the asteroid's physical features.

"I am so proud that we have established a new method of space exploration for small celestial bodies," said JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda.

The agency tried but failed in 2005 to land a rover on another asteroid in a similar mission.

Hayabusa2 will next month deploy an "impactor" that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a two-kilo (four-pound) copper object to blast a small crater into the surface.

From this crater, the probe will collect "fresh" materials unexposed to millennia of wind and radiation, hoping for answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.

The probe will also release a French-German landing vehicle named the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) for surface observation.

Hayabusa2, about the size of a large fridge and equipped with solar panels, is the successor to JAXA's first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa—Japanese for falcon.

That returned from a smaller, potato-shaped, asteroid in 2010 with dust samples despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph.

The Hayabusa2 was launched in December 2014 and will return to Earth with its samples in 2020.

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4.8 / 5 (5) Sep 22, 2018
Major accomplishment in Space Exploration. Everyone involved on the assorted project teams deserve major kudos!

A small asteroid with an atmosphere? Incredible or incredulous? Eventually someone needs to take the editor of these articles aside and gently explain the difference between "air" and "vacuum".
5 / 5 (6) Sep 22, 2018
Way to contribute, Japan!
5 / 5 (5) Sep 23, 2018
There are vacuums and there are vacuums, and a poor vacuum is closer to atmosphere than a high vacuum with kilometers of mean free path. At 100 mPa poor vacuum and room temperature, MFP is a few tens of millimeters.

Please to excuse my translation of atmosphere to 'air'. Domo arigato.

5 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2018
Eventually someone needs to take the editor of these articles aside and gently explain the difference between "air" and "vacuum"
Eventually someone needs to take willis aside and gently explain (bitchslap) the difference between "metaphor" and "STFU"
5 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2018
D_N, your comment seems a sensible rationale. Except, what evidence is there that the asteroid 162173 Ryugu has any detectable atmosphere/air?

As a Cg type asteroid it is theoretically possible that it's composition can outgas. But, considering it's known, present orbit? The odds are that any ices close enough to the surface sublimed a long time ago .

Smacking the rock with a couple of impacters could expose some ice pockets. Releasing fumes. Occasioning this small flying mountain a temporary thin atmosphere. Until the Solar Winds puffs it away.

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